Every year FISA or World Rowing offers one or more rowing tours in beautiful places. Every year is a different location. Typically the deadlines to apply are in January. In 2019, tours will be held in both New Zealand in April and in Finland in July. While submitting my application, I reflected on my very first time that I experienced a World Rowing Tour.
What exactly is a FISA World Rowing Tour?
As newbie, I had a lot to learn. What exactly is FISA World Rowing Tour? What would it be like rowing with 59 other people from 13 countries? What kind of shells would we row? How could the logistics of organizing all these boats and people to row on a famous voyageur canoe route in northern Ontario possibly work? What really is rowing touring?
I was a last minute participant in the 2012 FISA World Rowing Tour II held in August in Canada, taking the place of someone who cancelled. FISA is the international governing body for the sport of rowing. I had chanced upon the website in May, long past the deadline to apply. Yes, normally you have to apply, with demand outstripping supply. Turns out that there are many Europeans and Australians who have figured out that rowing and travel can be combined. As someone who loves to travel, is passionate about rowing, and used to run cycling and walking tours as a former adventure tour operator, I was intrigued. I was thinking about starting a rowing travel company, so this would be a perfect way to learn more. And now I was in.
So, how was it?
It was wonderful. We sculled on West Arm of Lake Nipissing, French River and Lake Ramsey, catching, driving and feathering along beautiful tea-coloured waters flowing past rugged granite outcrops topped with red and white pines. The flags of 13 countries and FISA fluttered festively from the sterns of the shells. A float plane swooped low to cheers from the rowers, cottagers stood on docks to wave at the parade of rowers, a saxophonist played an impromptu concert as we passed. We rowed and we rowed, but we had time to watch an eagle soar and listen to the call of a loon.
Most days we rowed between 30 and 35 km. The first three days of sculling were based out of a wonderful lodge. I shared a cabin with women from German, Denmark and Holland. We had our own dock, perfect for a refreshing dip on the hot days, or most memorably, an early morning dive into perfectly calm waters with mist curling up into the rising sun. After breakfast we would assembly by the boats at 9 AM. There were 12 beautiful Hudson coxed touring quads – two of them brand new, bought by the host club, Sudbury Rowing Club. The others came from several Ontario clubs and the Ontario Adventure Rowing Association – a group which has figured out the magic of touring. In advance, the FISA representative, Jens Kolberg, had assigned a captain from almost every country to each boat. Turkey was the only country present which did not have a boat, but Hasan brought his flag into each boat that he rowed. The captains stayed with their boats, with the rest of us pre-assigned into different shells every day. I never rowed with the same person twice and usually there were five different nationalities rowing together. Since you must be a competent rower to be accepted into the tour, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised at the quality of the row that I had most days. Some were down right superb. One windy afternoon we tapped the boat quickly and lightly through heavy waves, with Sergio, nicknamed Pavarotti, singing “we are not rowing, we are flying” to some operatic melody.
Typically we rowed for two to three hours in the morning, with a few breaks to switch seats. There was always a delightful destination for lunch, with time for a swim, maybe a nap and the never ending conversations about rowing around the world. Two or three more hours in the afternoon, followed by relaxation, food and fun. It might be martinis served while we relaxed in Adirondack chairs, maybe singing and guitars around a blazing bonfire, dancing to a local band, or a visit from Santa Claus (we were very close to Noelville …) bearing gifts of Rowing Canada commemorative caps.
After a day of rest when we were tourists learning about the first nation and fur trade history, we returned to Sudbury for the second half of the tour. For two days we commuted down to a marina on the French River to enjoy rowing in classic Canadian Shield scenery under the constant sun. One highlight was a shore lunch, a big fry of fresh pickerel (walleye) – that is a lot of fish for 60 hungry rowers plus all the supporting volunteers.
It is not just the rowing, it is the people
Volunteers are an essential part of the FISA World Rowing Tours. Most never touch a blade except to carry them, but they did all the planning, organizing, moved shells, drive the safety boats and corralled the 60 milling participants to ensure that we got to where we needed to be, on time and without leaving anyone behind. Different clubs host these tours, held once or twice annually around the world. It is their chance to give back for all the wonderful tours that they or their countrymen have enjoyed in the past. This year the Sudbury Rowing Club added something special, dividing the rowers into small groups and inviting them into their homes for a dinner. The travellers from Europe and Australia were thrilled. So was I and my fellow North Americans
Including me, there were only three Canadians (plus two Americans) who had the privilege to be a paying guest on this tour. Seeing this part of our country through the fresh eyes of foreign rowers was a rare and gratifying experience. But what made me especially proud to be Canadian was the generosity, warmth and hospitality of all the volunteers, sponsors and local people who supported the tour so whole-heartedly. To them, thank you!
A truly wonderful learning experience
So I did learn a lot. I learnt every possible means to command a boat of rowers to stop rowing, although “blades on the water” threw me at first. I learnt how to clamber over, under or around fellow rowers, riggers and oars in order to change seats on the water. I have some new techniques for navigating passages too narrow for rowing with both blades or using docks which I would have thought too high for shells. I have added words like gigs and church boats to my vocabulary, even if I have yet to see one. But most of all I learnt the pleasures of rowing touring. And looking back now, the number of rowing friends that I made on that trip was fantastic. I have now been on five World Rowing Tours, each very different but every one terrific. We composed Rowing Limericks from Ireland on a 2013 tour.Some of my trips, such as Magical Lago Maggiore have been inspired by those tours.
We in North America have not yet fully understood that in addition to the joys of training and competition, there is a whole world of rowing and travel. I for one will be exploring this further. When I am 87, I want to be just like Ruddy from Germany, sculling through the wilds of Canada with friends from around the world.